4 years ago

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) is a methodology that comprises a set of principles and processes for use when managing a programme. A programme is made up of a specific set of projects identified by an organisation that together will deliver some defined objective, or set of objectives, for the organisation.

The MSP® philosophy and methodology was born in the mid-1980s when a group of bright thinkers, called the ‘Bright Group’, gathered together to develop an approach for managing programmes. During this period a set of guiding principles were developed that come together under the headings of the MSP® methodology.

The MSP® methodology managed to bring together a set of principles, which the Bright Group, and later the wider group, discussed and debated against the backdrop of their own personal experience of managing programmes.

Some of the key principles of MSP® that have been developed include:

  • MSP® is a methodology for managing programmes.
  • Strive for excellent communication.
  • Document all important decisions.
  • Do not leave any issue unaddressed.
  • Understand the key tasks and define them clearly.

It is useful to note that MSP® is not a ‘cook book’ and it does not prescribe a particular set of project management techniques or approaches to be used. Rather, it provides a set of principles that project management practitioners can use to inform their own approach to managing a programme.

In the remainder of this article we will explore what MSP® is and how it has developed over the years.

What is MSP®

MSP® has a simple definition:

MSP® is a set of principles for managing successful programmes.

It is not a generic method, but rather is a set of principles that has been developed through experience and discussion to encapsulate a list of behaviours that project managers can use to improve their success rate when managing a programme.

  • A programme is a set of projects
  • A programme usually comprises a single project or a set of related projects that are identified by an organisation to deliver a specified outcome or set of outcomes for the organisation.
  • Projects may be dependent on each other

Typically, programmes will consist of one or more key projects that are dependent on the success of one or more other project within the programme. It is almost never acceptable for a project to be dependent on itself or other projects within the same programme.

The approach to managing a programme is much the same as that for managing projects, with the addition that a programme almost always comprises other projects that are dependant on the overall programme. The projects that are not dependent on the overall programme are typically known as projects of projects (PoPs).

What does MSP® mean for your organisation?

In simple terms, there are a set of basic principles that organisations can adopt to help manage their programmes effectively. These principles will enable organisations to manage programmes in a professional manner, and will ensure they are proactive, rather than reactive, to the issues that they encounter in managing their programmes.

Principles of MSP®

MSP® has a set of principles that have been developed through the work of the Bright Group and later the wider training group that grew out of the work of the Bright Group.

The principles of MSP® can be summarised as follows, strive for excellent communication.


The effectiveness of a programme relies heavily on having excellent communication at all levels – within the project teams and their members as well as to the project sponsors.

The majority of project issues occur through poor communication during a programme lifecycle.

It is essential to have honest and open communication throughout a programme to enable viewpoints to be heard and decisions can be made.

Poor communications and much of the stress that managers experience during a programme are caused by fear of lack of information and fear of communicating.

To ensure a good communications culture in an organisation, the most effective way is to lead by example.

  • Good communication is hard work and requires commitment from all staff and communications can’t be delegated.
  • Good communication doesn’t make things happen faster, but it does make it easier to know what’s happening.
  • Good communication leads to greater success on programmes and helps to avoid any delays during a programme.

The most likely cause of project failure is lack of communication.

There are two principal types of communication that occur within a project team:

  • across the project team’s representatives
  • across the project stakeholders

Good communication between team members is essential to ensure the team builds relationships and gets on well.

Good communication is essential to maintain a team’s focus on completing the project and to ensure that all issues are raised and dealt with.

It is imperative that project teams deal with all communications that they receive. Not dealing with communications is a major cause of project failure.

Good communication can be difficult when there is a personality conflict within the team. A project manager should lead by example and refuse to engage in negative or cynical communication and ensure that the project team do the same.

Clear communications are essential for the business side of an organisation as they can be a significant factor in gaining the funding required to deliver the external outcomes needed for success.

Very effective relationship building is essential for communication to occur.

If a team does not communicate, then they are very likely not to engage with what happens, making it difficult to satisfy them and deliver what they need.

Managing quality and reporting quality are two sides of the same coin and quality issues are often caused by people not communicating properly.

Al l communications that occur should be captured, processed and confirmed. It is very important to catalogue the resolution of each issue.

Communications should be open and honest and should not be negative.

MSP® strives for excellence:

  • in the outputs that are required from the project manager – e.g. the summary plan, management plan, risk register and timely reports on progress and issues.
  • in the management approach adopted by the project manager. This includes the diligent application of techniques to remove constraints, ensure effective communications, rapid resolution of issues, effective negotiations and face-to-face interactions with stakeholders.
  • in the quality of the project manager’s activity – e.g. avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort and ensuring that all the essential steps of the project management process are followed.

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